Spiritual gurus tell us that the true source of happiness is found when we experience the presence of God. They also report that we all lose the key to happiness along the way, which I suppose is another way of saying that we lose conscious contact with the God of our understanding (more on this in a future step). Many write about this spiritual malaise as a form of spiritual sleepiness. Some say it is a loss of God consciousness.
This fascinates me. I did not grow up in a religious home. My maternal grandparents were people of faith and I was blessed to have them expose me to religion during my summer visits. I attended children’s Sunday School classes and listened to weekly sermons that seemed way too long. Mostly I remember the crackers were stale but the grape juice was tasty. The church was unairconditioned and my legs stuck to the pews with the glue of sweat and left a pattern on my bare skin from the crinoline that often lined my Sunday-go-to-church outfit custom handmade by my grandmother - including hat, gloves and patent leather shoes. Uncomfortable? Yes. But I enjoyed both the ritual and the way it felt walking into church all dolled up.
My sporadic church exposure to faith in my grandparents’ conservative Southern Baptist Church was confusing for a number of reasons. Among the top contenders was learning that the reason for a string of Senior Pastors’ mysterious disappearance from the pulpit was not the result of a serial killer. I was eventually told about how each participated (in their own unique way) in a series of pastoral indiscretions which led to their firing, not their burial. That information left me wondering if anyone practiced what was preached.
As a pastor, I have heard many stories of spiritual abuse over the years. No wonder we lose our keys to happiness! It is easy to confuse the presence of God with our experiences with the people in our lives who claim to represent him. I know my community must struggle to find grace and mercy for me when my words do not match my behaviors.
If you have been wounded by spiritually abusive practices, consider the possibility that our exposure to religion is not representative of the God whose story is told through the scriptures. It is also possible that even the most well intended teacher has misinterpreted scripture. I invite you to take a fresh look at who God is and how he loves you. If you have experienced spiritual abuse, please talk to someone who can support your journey to healing.
When I kept it all inside,
My bones turned to powder,
My words became daylong groans.
The pressure never let up;
All the juices of my life dried up. Psalm 32:3-4